Slim Majority Approves of Supreme Court Following Partial-Birth Ruling

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Americans overwhelmingly say partial-birth abortion should be illegal

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds that a bare majority of the public approves of the job the Supreme Court is doing, and that compared with last fall, the court's approval ratings are down among Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike. It is unclear what impact the recent court ruling that upheld a ban on partial-birth abortions may have had on the public's opinion of the Supreme Court, given that its ratings are down even though the public shows overwhelming support for a partial-birth abortion ban. While some have warned that the partial-birth decision is a sign that the Roe v. Wade decision is in danger of being overturned, most Americans say they would not want the Supreme Court to take that step.

Public Opinions of the Supreme Court

The May 10-13, 2007, poll finds 51% of Americans approving of the job the Supreme Court is doing, with 36% disapproving and 13% not having an opinion. This approval rating is on the lower range of what Gallup has measured for the Supreme Court since 2000.

In the prior reading, taken last fall, 60% approved of the Supreme Court. Over that time, a similar decline has been observed in public ratings of President George W. Bush (from 39% to 33%). Congress' ratings are the same now as then (29%), but these ratings showed improvement with the change in party control this year.

So while the drop may reflect a broader dissatisfaction with government, Gallup has also seen the public's approval ratings for the Supreme Court shift in response to specific decisions the court has made. For example, the lowest Supreme Court approval rating measured by Gallup was 42% in June 2005, shortly after a controversial decision that expanded government power to seize private property using eminent domain.

Republicans (67%) are more likely to approve of the Supreme Court than either independents (52%) or Democrats (38%). But all three groups show similar 8-10 percentage point declines in their ratings compared with last fall's polling.

Thus, it is unclear how much of an impact the recent ruling on partial-birth abortion had on Americans' opinions of the Supreme Court. One would expect that Republicans, who tend to be pro-life in their views, would applaud the ruling and in turn give the court a more positive evaluation, but clearly that was not the case. The fact that the pre-ruling measurement was taken back in September 2006 also complicates one's ability to pinpoint the ruling's precise impact.

In general, Republicans have been more likely than Democrats to approve of the Supreme Court in recent years. Since 2000, in only two cases did Democrats give higher ratings for the court than did Republicans, only one of which was a statistically significant difference.

Supreme Court Job Approval, by Party Affiliation
Gallup Polls

%
Approval,
Dem.

%
Approval,
Ind.

%
Approval,
Rep.

Dem.-Rep.
gap

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

70

57

60

D, +10

2001 Jan 10-14

42

54

80

R, +38

2001 Jun 11-17

54

59

74

R, +20

2001 Sep 7-10

55

52

69

R, +14

2002 Sep 5-8

57

58

66

R, +9

2003 Jul 7-9

59

61

57

D, +2

2003 Sep 8-10

45

57

55

R, +10

2004 Sep 13-15

44

52

57

R, +13

2005 Jun 24-26

40

42

44

R, +4

2005 Sep 12-15

47

54

65

R, +18

2006 Sep 7-10

48

60

75

R, +27

2007 May 10-13

38

52

67

R, +29

Sometimes, Supreme Court rulings have engendered opposite reactions between Republicans and Democrats. For example, public approval of the court diverged sharply by party following the December 2000 Bush v. Gore decision that effectively made Republican George W. Bush the winner of the disputed presidential election over Democrat Al Gore. As a result, Democratic approval dropped from 70% in September 2000 to 42% in January 2001, while over that same time Republican approval increased from 60% to 80%.

Other times, the net effect of partisans' reactions to court actions has been that the two party groups have rated the Supreme Court similarly. For example, in 2003, when the Supreme Court invalidated a Texas law that made sodomy a crime in a ruling viewed as a victory for gay and lesbian rights, Republicans became more negative toward the court and their 57% approval rating nearly matched that of the Democrats, whose views did not change. In 2005, both Democrats and Republicans gave the Supreme Court approval ratings in the low 40s, with Republicans showing a sharp 13-point decline from the prior reading and Democrats' evaluations once again indicating little change.

Court Decisions on Abortion

Americans have shown overwhelming opposition to partial-birth abortion, indicating the court's ruling on this matter was in line with public opinion. In the latest poll, 72% say such abortions should be illegal, while only 22% say they should be legal.

Those who believe partial-birth abortions should be legal mostly disapprove of the job the Supreme Court is doing, while those opposed to that procedure mostly approve of the court's performance.

Critics of the recent decision have warned that this more conservative-leaning court may now be poised to reverse Roe v. Wade, but such a reversal would not be consistent with the public's wishes. Gallup has always found a majority opposed to the general idea of "overturning" Roe v. Wade. In the current poll, just 35% say they would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, while 53% say they would not. While still clearly the minority opinion, there has been a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who say they would like to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 10-13, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

3. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

51

36

13

2006 Sep 7-10

60

32

8

2005 Sep 12-15

56

36

8

2005 Jun 24-26

42

48

10

2004 Sep 13-15

51

39

10

2003 Sep 8-10

52

38

10

2003 Jul 7-9

59

33

8

2002 Sep 5-8

60

29

11

2001 Sep 7-10

58

28

14

2001 Jun 11-17

62

25

13

2001 Jan 10-14

59

34

7

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

62

29

9

16. Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe versus Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?

           

Yes, overturn

No, not overturn

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

35

53

12

2006 May 8-11

32

55

13

2006 Jan 20-22

25

66

9

2005 Jul 7-10 ^

28

63

9

 

 

 

^ Asked of a half sample

Trends for Comparison: The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court COMPLETELY OVERTURN its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?

           

Yes, overturn

No, not overturn

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Jul 7-10 ^

29

68

3

2002 Mar 22-24

36

60

4

1992 Aug 13-14

34

60

6

1989 Oct 5-8

33

61

6

1989 Jul 6-7

31

58

11

 

 

 

^ Asked of a half sample

17. Now I would like to ask your opinion about a specific abortion procedure known as "late term" abortion or "partial birth" abortion, which is sometimes performed on women during the last few months of pregnancy. Do you think that this procedure should be legal or illegal?

           

Legal

Illegal

No opinion

2007 May 10-13

22%

72

5

2003 Oct 24-26 ^

25%

68

7

^ WORDING: Now I would like to ask your opinion about a specific abortion procedure known as "late term" abortion or "partial birth" abortion, which is sometimes performed on women during the last few months of pregnancy. Do you think that -- [ROTATED: the government should make this procedure illegal, (or do you think that) this procedure should be legal]?

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27592/Slim-Majority-Approves-Supreme-Court-Following-PartialBirth-Ruling.aspx
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